As you may already know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a topic I’m quite passionate about, and I believe we should all strive to be more transparent regarding how we’re feeling. Of course, taking a battering ram to the stigma surrounding mental illness might very well be a permanent pursuit. However, we can chip away at that barrier little by little and that starts with a conversation.
Now, I love TV. Perhaps an unhealthy amount. If you read my articles, then you already know this about me. Lately, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the surging of TV shows that are tackling mental illness head on. Thankfully, said shows aren’t pulling punches or sugarcoating these struggles the majority of us face. Instead, they’re giving us an accurate portrayal of real life – fictional characters grappling with major depression and anxiety. Fictional characters that are in the throes of grief. These series are handling mental health with all the aplomb and respect it so deserves.
Below, I’ve listed five series that I think are required viewing if you’re looking for a true-to-life depiction of mental health struggles. Peruse at your peril.
On the surface, The Magicians looks like your stereotypical fantasy series. But, from the first episode, it’s quite clear that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Lead protagonist Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph) grapples with major depression and anxiety. He discovers that he possesses the capacity to perform magic. Oh, and the magical realm known as Fillory is real. Quentin enrolls in Brakebills University and befriends a group of misfits that all struggle with mental illness. “Magic comes from pain” seems to be the tagline for The Magicians. The show blatantly addresses mental health and manages to provide viewers with hope. After Quentin’s tragic passing in Season 4, we see Eliot Waugh (Hale Appleman) and Alice Quinn (Olivia Taylor Dudley) wade through the waters of grief. The Magicians handles grief in a way I haven’t seen before. It’s real, raw, and utterly visceral. Painful.
Not only that, but the series refuses to simply brush Q’s death “under the rug.” We see his death affect every main character for the remainder of the series. This show will hopefully pave the way for more fantasy series to broach mental illness in a realistic manner.
You’re the Worst
Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) aren’t exactly the most functional (or personable) of people. You’re the Worst documents Gretchen and Jimmy’s oftentimes tumultuous relationship – from the moment they meet till their wedding day. In Season 2, You’re the Worst introduces us to Gretchen’s struggle with depression. She succumbs to a depressive episode and Jimmy is clueless as to how to bring her out of it. We see Gretchen wholly unmotivated, laying about the house and staring listlessly into nothing. It’s all too relatable. In fact, I’ve had days where all I did was breathe. Gretchen’s story really hit home for me and You’re the Worst fearlessly dived headfirst into it. Not only that, but showing Jimmy’s ignorance regarding depression was also realistic.
Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is just a girl in love. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about Rebecca’s move across the country to West Covina, California. Her objective? Win over her childhood crush Josh. Rebecca is diagnosed with bipolar disorder over the course of the series. There’s also a scene wherein Rebecca overdoses on pills, so you’re really privy to her mental health struggles. After her diagnosis, Rebecca regularly attends therapy. It’s so refreshing to see someone take charge of their mental well being and truly do what’s best for them. It’s easy to craft scenes of despair and helplessness, but you seldom see a show tackle true recovery in this manner. Not to mention, bipolar disorder is rarely addressed in TV shows. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shattered that glass ceiling.
This Way Up
This Way Up is a gem I uncovered on Hulu. So far, there’s only one season and, in true British fashion, there’s only six episodes. Aine (Aisling Bea) is released from a mental hospital post-nervous breakdown. We see Aine attempt to re-assimilate into her life along with the aid of her sister Shona (Sharon Horgan). Of course, there’s some relapses, heated moments, and heartbreaking scenes. But, it’s real and brutally raw. Not only that, but Bea and Horgan deliver stellar performances. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a TV show with a simple premise and total focus on the characters. Aine’s story is relatable. While there aren’t a lot of “ups” in This Way Up, there’s still that inkling of hope lingering in the background. I’m more than ready for a Season 2.
You mean an animated series about a washed-up former childhood star that’s a horse is actually serious? Of course, BoJack Horseman is rife with comedic moments aplenty, but its dramatic turns are what really makes this show stand out. BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) struggles with substance abuse and depression. We’re given plenty of exposition into his childhood trauma and the reasons why he is the way he is. He’s self-destructive which…aren’t we all? However, this self-destruction takes BoJack down a twisted path throughout the tenure of the show. We see all the ugliness and darkness that goes hand-in-hand with mental illness and addiction. It’ll shake you to your core. If that’s what you’re into, then BoJack Horseman is the series for you.
Well, that’s all I wrote. What TV shows do you like that properly tackle mental health? Sound off in the comments below!
This article was originally published 5/22/20
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